The Old Age of Oisin

Patrick Kennedy
1891 (2nd Edition)

The next tale may be considered the latest that had reference to the Fianna.


After the fatal battle of Gavra the only surviving warrior, Oisin, son of Fion, was borne away on the Atlantic waves by the Lady Niav of resplendent beauty, and for a hundred and fifty years he enjoyed her sweet society in the Land of Youth below the waters. Getting at last tired of this monotony of happiness, he expressed a wish to revisit the land where his youth and manhood had been spent, and the loving Niav was obliged to consent. She wept bitterly on seeing him mount the white steed, and warned him that if his feet touched earth, he would never see her nor Tir-na-n-Oge again, and that his strength would be no more than that of a newly-born child.

Alas! Fion and his heroes were scarcely remembered on the plains and by the streams of Erinn. The fortress of Almuin was a mound and moat overgrown with docks and thistles, and moss had covered the huge casting-stones of the Fianna. Where strong mounds and ditches once secured armed warriors from their foes, he found unchecked entrance, and prayers and hymns recited and sung in stone buildings surmounted by cross and spire. He saw fewer spears and many more sickles than in the days of Fion, and near the Pass of Wattles (Dublin) he found Patrick the missionary raising a lowly house of worship. As he sorrowfully rode up the Glen of Thrushes (Glann-a-Smoll), a crowd of men striving to raise a huge stone on a low waggon, craved his aid. Stooping, he heaved the mass on to the car, but in doing so the girth snapped, the saddle turned round, away flew the white steed, and the last of the heroes lay on the hill-side, a grizzly-haired, feeble man.

He was conveyed to Bal a' Cliath, and St. Patrick gave him a kind reception, and kept him in his house. Many an attempt did he make to convert him to Christianity, but with little success; and the conferences generally ended with Oisin's laments for the lost heroes. The saint, pitying the desolation of the brave old man, would then introduce some remark on past events, which would be sure to draw from the bard a rhymed narrative of a Fenian battle, or hunting, or invasion by the king of the world—at least of Greece—or an enchantment worked on Fion or Fergus by some Danaan Druid, such as the ones just told. The winding up would be a fresh lament over his own desolate state, and the faded glories of the once renowned Fianna.

Poor Oisin did not find the frugal larder of the saint at all to his mind—he that had been used to the profuse feasts of former hunting days, when they cut up the deer, and baked it between the heated stones in the large oven on the wild moor or mountain side. When the housekeeper twitted him with his mighty appetite, he said that when he was young the leg of a lark was as large as the present shoulder of mutton, that the berry of the wild ash was as large as a sheep, and an ivy leaf as broad as a knight's shield. He was not believed, and feeling sore in consequence, he induced a stout fellow to drive him outside the town next day in a war-chariot. They held on till they came to a mighty dallan (pillar-stone) on the plain of Kildare, and there the blind poet directed his companion to alight, and dig out the earth at the south side of the pillar. At a certain depth he found a rusted spear of great size, the Dord Fionn, or great war horn of Fion, and a lump of bog butter. "Sound the horn," said Oisin, "and tell me the result." The guide blew a blast, but so terrible and unearthly was the tone, that he flung down the bugle in mortal terror. A sound as of distant thunder replied, and he cried, "Oh, Oisin, a flock of furious, gigantic birds are running this way, with wings outspread, and legs like those of a battle-steed: the hound is shivering in his chain." "Give him a piece of the butter, and untie his leash." "Ah! he is now yelling and charging the fowl. He has seized one, and the rest are dispersing to the four winds. He has pulled it down and bit its throat across. Oh! he is now flying back on us with madness in his eyes, and red jaws open as a cave's mouth." "Hold the spear levelled, and let it enter his breast." And so it befel: the dog was transfixed; and the guide separating the leg and thigh of the slain fowl they returned to Ath Cliath. In Glann-a-Smoll they gathered a berry of the quicken or rowan tree, and at Izod's Tower, an ivy leaf. The lark's thigh, the berry, and the leaf were larger than those vaunted by Oisin, and thenceforward he was treated with as much consideration by St. Patrick's household as by the saint himself.

End of this Story